Saudi female footballers excited about the upcoming league

Time: 13 October 2020  

Hala Mansouri says she has been playing football since childhood. (Supplied)

Amal Gimie
  • Players of other nationalities may not be participating but that has not dampened their enthusiasm

JEDDAH: As women across the Kingdom pursue their athletic dreams, including football, the No.1 sport in the country, anticipation for the Saudi Women’s Football League (WFL) is building.

The Saudi Sports Federation first announced the launch of the WFL in February, but it was postponed with the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The wait has been long, but Saudi footballers have been training throughout the lockdown period.
Coach Bireen Sadagah told Arab News: “Jeddah Eagles (one of teams selected to play in the WFL) have been practicing very hard in preparation for the league on and off the field, in terms of enhancing our fitness and strengthening our football mentally.”
She added: “The lockdown did not stop us from wanting to improve ourselves. We continued training in our homes as best as we could with the space and equipment available. Workouts and football drills were sent to us. Then as soon as it was acceptable, regular training was resumed three times a week, as well as individual work for recovery and strengthening.”
Hala Mansouri, a 22-year-old Saudi senior advertising student, has been playing football since she was 6, while living in West Virginia in the US, where she joined the World Alliance of the YMCA and fell in love with the game.
Returning to the Kingdom years later, she played on and off but always knew she had a knack for it, and joined Jeddah Eagles as a goalkeeper as soon as the lockdown was lifted.
“I used to play soccer and basketball when I was living in the US, depending on the season, but I just loved playing soccer more when I moved back to Jeddah,” she told Arab News.
Explaining what makes being a goalkeeper different, she said it was not as hard as playing other positions, but the difference was that goalkeepers see the whole field, must keep a close eye on the ball, and concentrate while keeping their cool.

“We can speak to our teammates so they can know where to go but the difference is we have different training; they run more than us goalies. I use my whole body to block a ball and strikers are more terrified if they missed or not. As a goalie, my only worry is if the ball passed the goal line,” Mansouri added.
Although goalkeepers are sometimes the under-loved players, she said, training was still rigorous, long and essential. “Goalies are the last line of defense in football.”
The young athlete said that football provided her with a liberating feeling away from everyday distractions. “While in a game, I don’t think of anything; everything is muted and it’s just a break for a while. It’s the best feeling.
“I’m honestly very proud that women found a lot of support in pursuing their dreams in sports and our families can be proud of us for doing so,” she said. “It’s a good feeling, even though we’re a bit later than other countries, but at least we got to where we are now for women and I couldn’t be more proud.”
So far, only Saudi citizens will be allowed to play, but that has not dampened enthusiasm from other female footballers in the Kingdom.
Yemeni-Saudi 24-year-old marketer, Shahad Saif, who plays for Jeddah’s Miraas FC as left-back, said she had played the game with her family in Jeddah since she was 10.
“I have been playing football since I was a kid with my family and brothers. I didn’t get the opportunity to play with an all-women’s group. So when I grew up, I used to rent a field and play football with random girls who love the sport and play without coaches and no specific requirements to play or prepare anything,” she told Arab News.
Football has always been an important part of her life, and it influenced all her habits and decisions. “Finding a community for this was very important, the only thing we could do back then was go to the gym.”

Shahad Said plays for Jeddah’s Miraas FC. (Supplied)

Miraas was established in Jeddah a year ago, and the left-back was one of the founders. “We provided everything that’s needed for girls to play soccer.”
Sharing the same sentiment, Amal Gimie, 26, an Eritrean midfielder for Jeddah’s Kings United, has been playing soccer since she was eight years old. Although she will not be participating either, that will not stop her from pursuing her passion and bettering her skills.
“There was a match every weekend, the boys made us play as goalkeepers in the beginning, and in 2002, when I first saw the Women’s World Cup, it sparked my passion to learn more about this sport,” Gimie, who is also a management information systems graduate, told Arab News. She joined her first female football team “Challenge” in Riyadh in 2014.
“It was the first time I joined something organized. I was happy to be playing but at the same time, I felt like it was an unreachable goal (to become a professional athlete or join an official league) I felt like I was growing older without achieving anything,” she added.
The midfielder said the rules of football have influenced her character.
“I’m someone who needs passion to live. I can’t live without having a goal. Since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a soccer player,” she said. “There has always been a drive to pursue and achieve something. Soccer has changed my personality in determination, and to learn and this was a dream that I wasn’t sure it would ever come true but I had the determination to continue. And socially, I learned a lot about teamwork and how to maintain relationships with people.” Kings United coach Elham Al-Amri told Arab News that women, both athletes and coaches and anyone interested in the game, had finally been given the opportunity to show their love for the game.
“What’s even more exciting is the participation of Kings United players to represent the Saudi League,” she said. “We at Kings United offered our players the right set of techniques and teachings to increase their chances of participating in the league.”

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Saudi megaproject NEOM to build world’s smartest city

Time: 13 October 2020  

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sport signed an MoU with NEOM to help it become a global destination for sporting activities. (SPA)
  • The NEOM CEO said the cooperation with the Sports Ministry aims to create a vibrant environment to attract global talent from around the world

RIYADH: Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and NEOM CEO Nazmi Al-Nasr signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the ministry’s headquarters in Riyadh on Monday.
The ministry will cooperate with NEOM to help the world’s smartest city become a global destination for various physical and electronic sports.
The sports minister vowed to continue the development of the sports industry in the Kingdom. He said the Kingdom is working relentlessly to ensure a sustainable environment for athletes.
The NEOM CEO said the cooperation with the Sports Ministry aims to create a vibrant environment to attract global talent from around the world.
He said investments in the sports sector are growing significantly in the Kingdom.
“The memorandum will allow exploring all possible opportunities and building sports entities that will help empower the Saudi youth and NEOM resident,” he said.

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For climbing enthusiast, Saudi Arabia offers up a wealth of options

Time: 15 September 2020

  • It is more of a sport which is learned from other people and through experience

JEDDAH: Fear has held many people back from enjoying even the simplest activities with friends and family such as swimming, going to theme parks and many more.

Nasser Al-Zuhufi, a 29-year-old Saudi, told Arab News he had always been a scared anxious child and fear hindered him from joining in the fun with the rest of his friends and family members.

He decided to break away from his fears unconventionally. He picked up the adrenaline pumping sports rock climbing.

“For as long as I could remember, I was always scared of everything, literally everything. Cats, the mountainous road driving to Taif, speed and rollercoasters. They were unexplained fears. There were no reasons behind them.

“Growing up, this feeling bothered me so much, that I’m holding this much fear. I even adjusted my life to suit my fears, like when I’d go to the theme park, I’d only go to the arcade, not the rollercoasters.”

One day, he decided to face his fears one by one and rode his first rollercoaster at 24 when he was studying in the US.

“It was the first time I felt like I faced a fear. I decided I’ll try it and there’s no going back no matter how I feel. After that, I felt this amazing empowering feeling, it was so liberating. I never felt an adrenaline rush before. That 5-minute experience changed my life.”

His first rock-climbing experience outdoors was in Al-Shafa, a village in Makkah in the summer of 2019.

“The first time I climbed, I feared the height of the rock. I felt like I was going too high too fast and I had to take it very slow to get used to it at the moment. The fear was not overwhelming and it all went away when I reached the end of the route,” he said.

Al-Zuhufi’s most difficult climb was in Lebanon, and he said it was both physically and emotionally stressful. He highlighted the importance of trust between climbers and belayers.

Zaki Kazmi has trained many people for various levels of climbing. (Photo/Supplied)

“Physical because the route was very high so it drained my muscles by the time I got to the hardest point in the route, and emotional because the whole area was new to me, I was climbing with people that I had met for the first time so I did not spend enough climbing time with them to build the trust needed between the climber and belayer.”  “And I never finished that route,” he added.

Saudi-based couple from Pakistan 30-year-old civil engineer Zaki Kazmi and 24-year-old biologist Arshia Zahra Akhtar created an Instagram page (@ our_monkey_business) that documented their rock-climbing adventures in the Kingdom.

The couple said the climbing community is small in general and particularly in the Kingdom, however, it is now rapidly growing.

“It is more of a sport which is learned from each other and through experience. Thus, we always welcomed and supported new climbers. For 8 years in Saudi, I have already trained many people for various levels of climbing, especially outdoors. My wife has also served as a trainer for indoor climbing at a local ladies’ gym, Riyadh,” Kazmi told Arab News.

“We welcome and are available to guide anyone who is interested in the sport or just wants to try the experience,” he added.

Kazmi said he enjoyed climbing in Tanomah, a small town in the south, between Baha and Abha. “I call it the “Yosemite of Saudi Arabia”. I first climbed there in 2016 before it was completely developed by the Saudi Climbing Foundation.”

“The supportive community, dynamic landscape and the rapid development of new climbing places should position Saudi Arabia in one of the top adventure travel destinations.”

He said rock climbing is therapeutic and a chance to connect with nature, away from city distractions.

“Rock climbing is a sport which is nearest to nature. It gives climbers a chance to get away from the city lights and hustle-bustle and get their dose of weekly meditation. It is not just a sport of physical exertion, but also mental strength. A person can strengthen their mental and physical health with continuous climbing therapy.”

Akhtar is currently pursuing her MD/Ph.D. in the US and continues to rock climb there. She said the Kingdom has ideal rock climbing spots and the Saudi climbing community is extremely supportive and welcoming.

“I have climbed in Massachusetts and Texas in the US, while studying here, and I can say Saudi Arabia does have quality rock climbing locations. The country has endless potential and so many places are yet to be explored, so it is definitely a hidden gem,” she told Arab News.

“The Saudi climbing community is extremely supportive and welcoming, along with the availability of a vast range of climbing and bouldering routes. So if you are an adrenaline junkie, looking for new climbing routes and are down to explore untouched places; you need to climb in Saudi,” she added.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi club Al-Hilal impresses with social media success

11/09/20

Al-Hilal after winning a record-equaling third Asian Champions League title in November last year in Saitama, Japan. (Files/AFP)

LONDON: When Al-Hilal became Asian champions for the third time last November, they joined Pohang Steelers of South Korea as the most successful teams in the continent’s history. When it comes to social media however, it is clear who is No. 1 in Asia.

With 9 million followers on Twitter, Al-Hilal are head and shoulders above the rest and have 150 times more followers than Pohang. It is not just about Asia; Al-Hilal rank alongside the biggest clubs in the world on the platform and surpass the likes of European giants Bayern Munich and Juventus.

Other leading teams in the Saudi Pro League are also far ahead of continental counterparts, with Al-Ittihad close to 4 million and Al-Nassr near 3 million. Some of Asia’s biggest clubs, such as Urawa Reds of Japan with their 400,000 followers, can only dream of such figures. Only Indonesian giants can come close, with Persija Jakarta at 2.9 million followers on Twitter and Persib Bandung at 3.3 million.

In 2019, the Saudi league was ranked as the third-highest league in the world in terms of fan interaction on social media. Tweets about the league reached 80 million from 40 million accounts, surpassing the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue One. Only the English Premier League and La Liga had higher rates of engagement.

How have Saudi clubs done it? That is a question that people are starting to ask around Asia. One reason is the sheer numbers on Twitter. “It has always been by far the most popular social media platform in Saudi Arabia,” said Wael Jabir, founder and CEO of Ahdaaf, a Dubai-based football digital content company. “In fact, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest percentages of population on the platform worldwide.”

Jabir noted that Al-Hilal have improved their quality of late but believes that these clubs gain a major advantage from the size of their fanbases. “I’d even argue that the top four Saudi clubs are not even the best in the league in terms of social media content quality, but their popularity is such that above average content gets massive engagement.”

FASTFACT

Al-Hilal and other Saudi teams are not going to rival the likes of Barcelona in terms of global profile, but they can raise their standing across the world.

That engagement leads to a higher quality social media presence, however, as fans and clubs interact.

“If we take a look on Al-Hilal’s social media platforms, we will see how most of their content is football-related,” Xavi Bove, sports marketing consultant, said. “Lineups, results, goals celebrations or post-game photographs are predominant in their feed. The club publishes original content regarding players’ birthdays or families.” The Spaniard believes that more behind-the-scenes or fan-generated content would improve the product further. “Such strategies have been very useful for clubs like FC Barcelona.”

Al-Hilal and other Saudi teams are not going to rival the likes of Barcelona in terms of global profile, but they can raise their standing across the world.

“Leveraging Saudi fan passion across the digital landscape together with the expansion to international markets through the signing of foreign players and more content beyond football can surely boost Saudi teams’ exposure in global markets,” Bove said. “A conscious exercise of branding and storytelling will become crucial to create more interest and trust both locally but especially globally, since football is shifting toward the industry of entertainment rather than sport. And, of course, success on the pitch is always important to attract fans and followers, as we tend to seek brands that genuinely inspire us.”

Bove added that signing big stars from countries such as Brazil helps increase awareness, but Kim Myung-won, a Seoul-based social media and communications expert, believes Asia should be a first port of call, especially as nations such as South Korea and Japan have a lot to learn from Saudi teams.

“Just follow the posts ahead of a game. A map of the world is posted with all the different times listed, which fans in different countries can watch,” said Myung-won. “It is simple but effective in showing that the club sees itself as an inclusive international brand. It is a call to action, too.”

Video content is also hugely important. Myung-won pointed to Al-Nassr’s welcome of South Korean international defender Kim Jin-su, who was signed at the end of August.

The video opened overlooking the megacity of Seoul with Jin-su packing his bags in a hotel room and telling fans of his new club how much the move meant to him.

“It was simply but beautifully done,” said Myung-won. “It showed a little of Jin-su and his homeland and immediately brought the player closer to fans. Signing a left-back from South Korea is not going to get fans too excited, but this video makes a difference.”

For too long, Myung-won says, the rest of Asia have either not known of the social media success of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and other teams in Saudi Arabia, or have not cared. That should change.

“Clubs here in Korea and Japan think that they can learn only from Europe, but officials should be flying to Saudi Arabia,” said Myung-won.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Why young Saudis are getting their skates on

07/09/20

Raeah Al-Attas considers it a duty to promote the sport. (Photo/Supplied)

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia in bid to develop Yemen sports sector

24/08/20

The plan is to renovate the hall and provide it with the latest sports equipment. (SPA)

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Saudi figure skater nurtures Olympic dream

Time: 04 August, 2020

Malak Al-Shaya says when in the ice rink everything feels ‘magical’ around her. (Photo/Supplied)
  • The 13-year-old hopes to emulate the Russian figure skaters Elena Radionova and Alexandra Trusova

JEDDAH: A Saudi teen who picked up ice skating three years ago at a friend’s birthday party is now dreaming of taking part in the Olympic Games.

“It all started at my friend’s birthday party three years ago where we ice skated and I fell in love with the sport. I started going every day after that. My mom signed me up for classes when she saw my love for the sport,” Malak Al-Shaya told Arab News.
She said: “My mom was the one that encouraged me. At that birthday party, my mom and the coach said I was a natural because I just went for it.”
She came 4th at the Houston Invitational 2020 in March. She said that she will work harder next year to win first place.
The 13-year-old hopes to emulate the Russian figure skaters Elena Radionova and Alexandra Trusova who inspired her and even to get to the Olympics.
“I’ll work on ice and off ice. I want to be like Alexandra Trusova, who makes it look so elegant,” she said.

Gliding on the ice, Al-Shaya said she feels like everything is “magical.”
The young figure skater is aware that the sport is not the most popular in the Kingdom, but she encourages those wishing to master it.
“Just go for it. If you are willing to work hard you can achieve anything,” she said.
She has received a lot of encouragement on social media to pursue her passion in figure skating.
Al-Shaya’s mother, Eman Al-Damegh, shared her daughter’s love story. “At that birthday party, it was the first time Malak ever ice skated. After that, my kids used to ask me to take them ice skating every day,” she said.

FASTFACT

• Malak Al-Shaya won 4th place at the Houston Invitational 2020.

• Al-Shaya started ice skating three years ago.

• The teen’s coach says her speed is impressive, and it takes them years to teach a student to reach the speed that she is naturally able to control comfortably.

She said that her daughter came from a background, which lacked the facilities for the sport, but was “a natural” straightaway.
“She had never been ice skating before, she started it at such a young age. We used to live in Qassim where there were no ice skating arenas at all,” said Al-Damegh.
She added: “The moment Malak set foot inside the rink, she just took off. I was so surprised, she didn’t hesitate at all, she was so daring that day. And there I was wondering what would happen on ice (before she started).”
According to her proud mother, Al-Shaya has all the capabilities required for this sport and possesses the sense of daringness that skating requires.
The teen’s coach told Al-Damegh that her daughter’s speed was impressive, adding that it takes them years to teach a student to reach the speed that she is “naturally able to control comfortably.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Art and passion: Creative secrets of the Kiswa calligrapher

Time: 30 July, 2020

Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years.  (Supplied/ Reuters)
  • Mokhtar Alim Shokder tells Arab News about his remarkable journey and influences

RIYADH: With a steady and sturdy hand, a calligrapher’s passion and commitment to the art of the written word can be displayed through various mediums, but none more honorable than displaying that passion on the Holy Kaaba’s Kiswa (curtain).

Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years, which landed him the prestigious and honorable position he is in today.

As a third-grader, he joined a three-month calligraphy course during the summer of 1977 held in Makkah’s Grand Mosque. At the outset, he showed extraordinary skills, which impressed his teachers, and he was made a calligraphy teacher the following year.

With practice and determination, Shokder fell more in love with calligraphy and felt happier when his skills improved.

“I would practice for long hours each day because I loved Arabic calligraphy. My classmates would come and ask for tips on how to improve their handwriting,” he recalled. “I felt overjoyed, with a strong drive to perfect my skills. My colleagues and I would spend long hours training nonstop, with full focus on the tasks at hand to perfect our work.”


Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years.
(Supplied/ Reuters)

His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of “hooks” on the ends of ascending and descending strokes, considered to be one of the earliest forms of Islamic calligraphy and which is used in the Holy Qur’an. However, he uses the Thuluth font more often, because it allows for curved and oblique lines and slopes, and is used for writing on the Kiswa.

Shokder said that Kiswa writing methods had developed immensely, noting that the calligraphy takes a lot of time and requires patience and precision.

He was influenced by several calligraphers, especially the 19th-century Ottoman calligrapher Sami Efendi, whose works were prominent during his time for its attractive design for vowel signs, decorations, and numbers. Heavily influenced by his work, Shokder was impressed the first time he saw one of Efendi’s works, calling him a role model for all calligraphers.

After teaching calligraphy for several years at the Grand Mosque, he enrolled at Umm Al-Qura University’s Art Education Department in 1989 to hone his skills. He said he benefited most from Muhammad Hassan Abu Al-Khair, a professor at the department and a famous calligrapher known to participate in several competitions and exhibitions.

FASTFACTS

  • As a third-grader, Mokhtar Alim Shokder joined a short course during the summer of 1977 held in Makkah’s Grand Mosque. His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of ‘hooks’ on the ends of ascending and descending strokes.
  • Due to his extraordinary skills, he was made a calligraphy teacher the following year.
  • After teaching calligraphy for several years at the Grand Mosque, he enrolled at Umm Al-Qura University’s Art Education Department in 1989 to hone his skills.
  • His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of ‘hooks’ on the ends of ascending and descending strokes.
  • However, he uses the Thuluth font more often, because it allows for curved and oblique lines and slopes, and is used for writing on the Kiswa.

“The artistic works need a lot of patience and precision. For example, to write five words using calligraphy can take you two to three months and sometimes longer,” said Shokder. “It is the execution of the work that takes a long time. Some people think that such an artwork that has three words can take an hour but this is not true.”

According to Shokder, calligraphers will spend long hours working and have to bear the pressure associated with executing such works, to hone and perfect skills with years of practice and training.

In 2003, he was appointed the sole calligrapher for the Kiswa, a position his father saw in a dream, a moment he cherishes deeply. “It was one of the happiest moments of my life and a great blessing from God, for which I will always be indebted. My father’s dream came true,” he said.

The methods of writing on the Kiswa have developed over the years. The late calligrapher Abdulraheem Ameen Bokhari, Shokder’s predecessor, used chalk to write the script on the silk cloth. In later years, silk-screen printing was introduced which allows the calligrapher to save the script and preserve it on a computer, a method which allowed the Kiswa’s calligrapher to improve the script.


Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years.
(Supplied/ Reuters)

“In older times, ink was used to write the words on papers, then the edges of the letters would be punched with a needle, the papers would be placed on a black fabric, the surface of which would be used for writing,” said Shokder. “Later, a transparent bag made of cloth would be filled with white powder that would be used together with the papers to punch letters on. An embroiderer would use a thread to identify the outside edges of each letter then start his process of embellishing.”

Shokder noted that the process of developing the writing methods was only approved after thorough studies had been conducted on the methods.

Writing on the Kiswa requires strong skills and long hours of training to master the skill. Another challenging part of his job would be the compound and overlapping texts, which require the calligrapher to try several times before reaching the desired outcome, which should be beautiful and with the logical order of words and combine all the elements of the art.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Arab nations cannot afford to ignore the rise of women’s football

Time: 29 July, 2020

The women’s game in the region cannot afford to fall behind much longer. (FILE/AFP)
  • The 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is unlikely to see any teams from West Asia
  • The desire to accelerate the progress of women’s football can be seen across grass roots level

DUBAI: On Sept. 25, 2005, a football match that few people will remember or even have heard of, took place in Amman, with hosts Jordan comfortably thrashing an overwhelmed Bahrain 9-0.

But the result mattered little. This was a football match with a difference for the beaten team; it was the first time that Bahrain’s national women’s team – established in 2003 – had taken to a football field.

Women’s football had taken its first, small step in the GCC. It was only a matter of time before Gulf nations would follow other more established football neighbors like Jordan and Egypt in developing the women’s game.

But while Bahrain and UAE have followed in those footsteps, things haven’t exactly progressed elsewhere.

Fifteen years on, a revolution is taking place in women’s football. But it’s a revolution that seems to be going under the radar in the majority of the GCC, Arab countries and the Middle East at large.

On June 25, 2020, the announcement that Australia and New Zealand will co-host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup was warmly welcomed across the globe. More than a month on, the news has barely made any waves in the region, especially considering one of the co-hosts, Australia, is a fellow Asian Football Federation (AFC) member state.

The 2023 World Cup will also see the number of participating nations expanded from 24 to 32, in line with the men’s competition, though the extra qualifying opportunities are unlikely to vastly improve the chances of Arab nations.

Across Asia, teams like Japan and China, as well as North Korea and South Korea, have for long been powerhouses in the women’s game, and now Vietnam, Thailand and Uzbekistan are increasingly looking to close the gap on the heavyweights of Europe and the Americas as well. For now, the West Asian region is being left further behind.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the women’s game has not captured the imagination, or even mere attention, of the regional public. No Arab nation has ever taken part in the FIFA Women’s World Cup since its inception in 1988, and only a few ever make the AFC Asian Cup. Women’s football, for long a traditional taboo, remains a novelty even in these days of cultural progress. That remains the case beyond this region.

At the same time, any criticism for lack of the progress of the women’s game must come with acknowledgement of the socio-political environment, and hardships, that prevail in many Arab and Middle Eastern countries like Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. In many cases, football and sports in general, for men as much as women, are fraught with political and cultural obstacles which render them of secondary concerns.

But perhaps that is as good a reason as any to ensure the current rise of women’s football does not become the latest wasted opportunity; it’s not just the sporting aspect of women’s game that female athletes would be missing out on.

In recent years, women’s football has become a driving force for equal rights in sports, and beyond, something many regional nations are striving to put right.

In particular, the 2019 World Cup in France was a revelation, a true game-changer for the women’s game at so many levels. There were record attendances and worldwide record television audiences and perhaps for the first time ever, the tournament was enjoyed without the usual, stereotypical caveats.

Even the previous World Cup, in Canada in 2015, had seen major steps taken in the women’s game, with the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) as ever, leading the way.

American captain and star of the last year’s World Cup, Megan Rapinoe, has for one transcended the sport to become a role model for aspiring female athletes and one of football’s most vocal advocates for women’s empowerment.

Ahead of winning the 2023 bid, Australia’s women’s team, the Westfield Matildas, took on Football Federation Australia and Fifa to achieve equal pay with their male counterparts. On Nov. 6, 2019 they won their case and the next World Cup will now stand as a beacon of gender equality and non-discrimination for female footballers.

It would be unfair and unrealistic to expect such giant steps to take place across nations were women’s football remains embryonic, and nor is there is a complete lack of interest by West Asian federations in promoting the game in countries like UAE, Jordan and Bahrain, and with Saudi Arabia indicating huge leaps in the coming years too.

Jordan remains the highest women’s FIFA-ranked Arab nation at 58, and thanks to the work of former FIFA Vice President Prince Ali bin Hussein and the Jordan Football Association, the team has won several regional tournaments and competed at continental level. And in captain Stephanie Al Naber, who had a spell playing at Danish club Fortuna Hjørring 10 years ago, they have a role model that young Jordanian footballers can aspire to emulate.

In 2018, the Women’s Asian Cup was held at Amman International Stadium and King Abdullah II Stadium in the Jordanian capital, two years after the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup had been a success. Jordan, as hosts, were the only Arab representatives in either competition.

In the UAE, a program of training for talented young Emirati girls over the last decade has raised the profile of the women’s national team, with age group selections taking part in invitational tournaments in Asia and Europe.

Having established a women’s team in 2004, a year after Bahrain, the UAE won the West Asia Football Federation (WAFF) Women’s Championship in 2010 and 2011, albeit with a team of mostly nationalised foreign players. Last year in Bahrain, fielding a team of Emirati players, the UAE finished fourth.

The desire to accelerate the progress of women’s football can be seen across grass roots level as well.

The UAE Football Association (UAE FA) has provided significant funding for the national team programs, as well as the seven-team domestic league, with Houriya Al Taheri – coach and technical director with the UAE FA – and Omar Al Duri, formerly a coach with Ghana’s World Cup squad, exerting a positive influence on a team now ranked 97 in the world, 13 behind Bahrain at 84.

In Saudi Arabia, Saja Kamal, a footballer with a massive online following has been leading a campaign to establish a senior national team in the Kingdom, and like Naber and Al Taheri, is a role model in her own right.

Women were only allowed into Saudi football stadiums as recently as 2017, but progress has accelerated in recent times. Earlier this year, an official women’s league was launched in the Kingdom that aims to encourage participation at grassroots and community level.

The 2023 World Cup may come too soon to see an Arab team taking part in Australia and New Zealand. But it should be seen as an unmissable opportunity to learn the lessons that other nations have taken on board, and plan ahead.

Perhaps regional countries could follow suit and co-host international tournaments. That would easily be within the capabilities of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Staging such competitions would indicate a commitment to the women’s game and to gender equality. Above all, it will bring the game closer to young female football fans.

The women’s game in the region cannot afford to fall behind much longer.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Roaa Qattan, Asian Football Confederation-certified Saudi football coach

26/07/20

Roaa Qattan. (Supplied)

  • Qattan was one of only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC

Roaa Qattan is an Asian Football Confederation-certified Saudi football coach. In February, the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) launched the Women’s Football League (WFL), the first of its kind in the Kingdom, to develop the sport for Saudi women and promote inclusivity.
Qattan was one of only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC and selected to lead Arabic training sessions as part of the international UN Global Goals World Cup 2019 Virtual Clubhouse, which ran online until July 9.
Qattan said the Virtual Clubhouse offers a chance to those who wish to join the Green Team in its Arabic training sessions.
“We were selected and tasked with preparing content for the training sessions in a way that was easy to set up and using simple Arabic. I wouldn’t be able to succeed without the support of the Green Team members and SFA management, which is committed to achieving the General Sports Authority goals under Vision 2030,” she said.
Qattan completed her bachelor’s degree in accounting from King Abdul Aziz University (KAU) in 2005. In 2011, she received an open water diver’s license from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors in Jeddah. She holds an INSEP diploma of sport sciences and has a C-license from the Asian Football Confederation, which she earned in 2018.
She is the founder of the Jeddah Wave football team and has been coaching teams since its establishment in 2018. A year later, she joined Green Team, the official women’s football team representing Saudi Arabia for the Global Goals World Cup, and helped coach it.
She was named best physical education teacher in the Arab region at the Women Sport Conference in Cairo in 2019.

This article was first published in Arab News

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